Fireworks Night - How To Safely Celebrate With Family Members Affected By Dementia
Fireworks Night is a much-loved UK celebration, but it's easy to forget that it can be a challenge for some. We spoke to Dawn Collett at New Care Homes to find ways to help support someone living with dementia through the holiday.
As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, people across the UK are looking forward to Fireworks Night. From big events to back garden gatherings, everyone is looking forward to wrapping up warm to watch some fantastic spectacles - and even enjoying some autumn treats like hot chocolate and toffee apples in the process.
However, for those who are currently living with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, it can be a challenging experience.
On the one hand, it's a great opportunity to celebrate a much-loved tradition, encouraging social interaction and a sense of warmth and familiarity that can be good for the individual. On the other, as the condition progresses, those living with the condition may struggle to realise what is going on and may be unable to communicate their discomfort.
Each situation is different and can be informed by many factors. Whether they want to take part or prefer to remain at home, there are ways to make your friend or family member feel safe during Fireworks Night and to provide the best support whatever the situation may be.
Should People Who Are Affected By Dementia Attend a Fireworks Night Event?
Dementia affects our perception, memory, problem-solving, language and behaviour.
This can make sudden environmental changes and sounds - like fireworks, difficult to experience.
In addition, those living with dementia can find communication and concentration difficult at times, which can make it hard for them to tell others that they may be feeling distressed or uncomfortable. Many may feel like they don’t want to cause a fuss or stop the fun, even when it becomes less fun for them.
However, it’s important to remember that dementia develops in stages. In the early stages, symptoms may be mild, which means your friend or family member would be happy to attend an event, but that might change as the condition progresses.
Each patient is also different, and issues that may affect someone may not be present for someone else or affect them to the same extent. As a result, each situation should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with professional advice and guidance sought when appropriate.
Whether the person experiencing symptoms is excited to attend an event or prefers to stay home, there are things that friends and family can do to help them remain comfortable during bonfire night whatever their decision.
How to Support Someone at an Event
1. Attend An Official Event
Hundreds of official and Fireworks Night celebrations are organised around the UK each year. Many of these events are very well organised with a clear schedule, parking, amenities as well as strict fire and safety regulations. These celebrations are a great way to celebrate in a safe environment.
If you do plan on going to a local display, make sure your friend or family member is aware in the run-up to the event so they and everyone else can prepare. Create a clear schedule for what will happen while you’re there. Let them know that it’s OK if they want to leave if things become overwhelming or confusing. Park as close to the event as possible to allow for a quick exit if needed.
2. Look For Neurodivergent And Neurodegenerative Friendly Events
As awareness around the neurodivergent and neurodegenerative conditions grows, more and more organisers are now able to create specific events for people with sensory sensitivities, such as those who are autistic or experience symptoms of dementia.
Some events may choose to use special ‘quiet’ fireworks which are designed to go off without a bang. Some events may be able to provide quiet spaces. These spaces are often dog-free (apart from guide/support dogs) and set well away from the main crowd to provide a space to retreat to if things become a bit too much. Many events may also be able to further support with sectioned seating areas, access to earplugs and ear defenders and more.
3. Stay Comfortable
Since Fireworks Night happens in autumn, it’s important to stay warm and as comfortable as possible. The person you’re caring for may feel the cold but may not realise it. Wrap them up warm with a coat, gloves and a scarf, and consider taking a collapsable chair in case they get tired. Encouraging them to drink hot beverages can also help them stay warm.
When watching the display, choose an area that's away from boisterous crowds. Ear defenders or soft earplugs can be a great option if the noise from the fireworks can be a lot. If it does get too much, it’s good to have a designated person to help take the person to a quieter area or back home again if needed.
4. Set Up Your Own Area To Celebrate
Just because you’re at an event doesn’t mean you need to be in the thick of things. Creating your own little small-scale gathering away from the big crowd can be a great way to celebrate and keep things focused.
Create a little gathering space away from the main event. Invite familiar friends and family to attend. Take collapsable chairs or set out a small picnic area. That way you’ll still be able to see and enjoy the spectacle without the level of intensity. If they’re permitted at the event, take your own sparklers along - they’re a lot quieter and perfect for a small gathering.
5. Avoid Fireworks Altogether
Fireworks are not for everyone - and that’s okay. Remember that everyone's sensory sensitivities are unique, so it's essential to find what works best for your loved one. If they are startled by the noise or bright flashes, staying home can be a great option.
Why not arrange a celebration at home? That way you’ll still be able to enjoy the holiday, but you’ll also have more care options available to help support your friend or family member. Consider organising a small party at home or in the back garden to celebrate the occasion.
How to Support Someone at Home
1. Stay Informed About Local Firework Displays
Fireworks Night events can start up to a week before the 5th of November. Staying up to date with local fireworks displays will allow you to prepare ahead of the celebrations. Check with your local council to see what official events have been set up nearby and how far away they are.
Close fireworks can be incredibly loud, so it’s also an excellent chance to check to see if neighbours are planning their own events. Being able to prepare for this and factor it into your plans can help mitigate any potential issues and help you put effective plans in place to help support the family and friends who are affected by dementia.
2. Maintain Their Routine In The Run-Up
Maintaining a strong routine as part of a care plan is important for anyone experiencing symptoms of dementia. It lets them know what to expect and creates familiarity and structure throughout the day.
As with any upcoming big event, let them know well ahead of time about the event and what will happen. Stick to a consistent schedule before and after the event to help maintain a sense of consistency. Adequate rest can help reduce anxiety so make sure they get enough sleep before and afterwards to help reduce any potential stress.
3. Keep Gatherings Small
If you planning a small gathering to celebrate try to keep it small. Large crowds can be overwhelming and disorientating for someone living with dementia. Invite familiar faces and voices around to join in. Let the friend or family member know who is coming and introduce them when they arrive.
This can provide structure and reduce any potential anxiety about who is coming and who is already there. Family members or friends familiar with their needs can also help provide support where needed.
4. Consult With their GP and Support Team
If the person affected by dementia is at risk of becoming distressed during fireworks displays, their healthcare provider and support team may be able to provide therapeutic options to help. This could include prescribing calming medications or advising on other methods to help manage anxiety.
5. Involve the Person in Preparation
If the individual can do so, make sure they’re involved with and kept up to date with preparations. If they’re happy to have a small gathering, let them know who is coming by and when. Let them know what’s planned and what to do if they feel uncomfortable.
If avoiding fireworks is the plan, show them how you're preparing their home (like creating a calming space) and what activities are available for them to do. This involvement can sometimes provide a sense of control and awareness.
6. Create a Safe and cosy Space at Home
Choose a safe, quiet and familiar space in the home and make small changes to ensure it's a place they can retreat to and relax if the noise from the fireworks becomes too overwhelming.
This could be the living room, a bedroom or even the kitchen in some circumstances - any room where the noise may be dampened and they can feel comfortable for the evening. Include familiar activities such as television and music, and comfortable items like pillows, blankets and even soft toys to make the space feel calming and soothing.
7. Listen to Music or Pair Headphones with Their TV
While some people who experience dementia may prefer to block out noise, some may prefer to engage in activities such as listening to music or watching television. These activities may be soothing but also be part of their routine, so maintaining access to them can maintain structure and familiarity.
Many headphone brands that can connect to TVs can also be noise cancelling, which will significantly reduce the amount of disruption that the noise from fireworks can cause. They can also be a great investment beyond the celebrations to help manage dementia symptoms such as stress and anxiety.
8. Provide Earplugs/Noise Cancelling Headphones/Ear Defenders
In some cases, your friend or family member might prefer to just enjoy some peace and quiet. Soft earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones can be a great option to help significantly reduce the noise created by fireworks.
Soft earplugs can be comfortable and easy to just pop in, but for some, they might feel a bit weird and unusual. If comfort is a concern, noise-cancelling headphones or ear defenders that cover their ears can be a great alternative that can be used again and again in future in a wide variety of different situations.
9. Be Patient & Flexible
Dementia can alter perception and cause rapid emotional changes. This can be heightened by sudden changes in the environment that fireworks can cause. As a result, it's important to be prepared for changes in behaviour and mood and to be able to adapt to provide the best level of support.
Maintain a calm and patient demeanour and keep your tone of voice positive and friendly. Be able to adapt plans and circumstances to help provide them with the support or guidance they need.